"I wrote 63 songs this year. They're all about Jeter." Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls' Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don't forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: August 14, 2013

Submitted by on August 14, 2013 – 4:46 PM13 Comments


I have a problem. A kitty-related problem. I have two adult male cats, neutered, 6 years old.

I've had them since they were very young (P since he was a couple of weeks old, and had to do the bottle-feeding thing, and S since he was 3 months old). They do NOT like each other. Or rather, P cannot stand S. They used to get along fairly okay when they were small, but in recent years, P has really developed an intense hatred for S, hissing and scratching and biting his neck to show dominance and such.

Until about 6 months ago, this was less of a problem. I lived in a fairly large apartment, and they had room to lead their own lives. They were inside/outside cats, who went in and out as they pleased. Also, P was not very cuddly with me, and S was, and it seemed to be just the way they were. Then, due to life, I had to leave the large apartment and seek new accommodations, and placed my cats with my grandmother for 5 long months. They were well cared for, though they had to stay outside all the time, which P was very upset about, crying and banging on the door and whatnot. My grandmother (who is a saint) put up with it all and cared for them both.

Fast forward to last week. I have a new apartment — tiny, one room — and I wanted my cats back. Due to logistics, I brought them back one at a time, some days apart. First I brought P, and for a week things were lovely. He was affectionate in a way he hasn't been since he was a kitten, cuddled with me, nuzzled me, and purred all day, every day. Then we brought S in…and it all went to hell. P immediately started with the hissing and scratching — and started avoiding me as well. He won't come to me anymore, and slinks away when I come over and try to stroke him or cuddle him or anything. He is also very restless, and spends entire nights trying to open cupboards/the fridge, scratching the sofa, and such: all things he was always wont to do, but not this obsessively. Sars, he's miserable. S is taking it all in stride — a little less cuddly than usual, but he's still adjusting to being here. I'm afraid I don't give him as much attention as he wants/deserves, though, because whenever I try to give him any, P hisses and walks away and exudes misery to such a degree I just can't.

As I said, the apartment is tiny. It has its own little yard, which they can go out to whenever they want, but there's not enough room to separate them permanently, not in a way that's feasible for two cats who are used to roaming around. I tried giving them each alone time with me, but P isn't interested, because he doesn't want anything to do with me as long as S is around. I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO. P is really really unhappy, and it's making me unhappy, and I miss the cuddly kitty I had when it was just him…and I'm afraid I'm having classical "problem child" responses: I'm focusing on my problem kitty, and I'm neglecting the well-behaved kitty because, well, he's well-behaved.


Feeling Helpless

Dear Helpless,

You used to live in a big apartment, and the cats could go wherever. Then you left them with Grandma, outside, without you. Then you moved them back in with you (and each other), into a single room, a week ago. You did what you had to do, which is fine, but P already hated S, and now you all have to live in one room. It's going to take longer than a week.

As long as neither of them is stress- or territory-peeing anywhere, you start by counting your blessings. Then you buy earplugs and that plug-in Feliway stuff and you give it another week or two. You leave a couple of cupboards open for P, if you can, or create a little lair from an Amazon box where he can hide (put an old shirt in it, and a sprinkle of nip). Find a different place to feed him, whether he's on the counter or in the bathroom or whatever, from where S eats; buy a tall cat "tree," or craft something less dowdy with tips from Lifehacker, to utilize upper wall space you don't really need as a getaway spot for one or both cats.

When P's scratching and howling at night, put the earplugs in and ignore him. Stop reinforcing his negative behavior with any response, be it positive cuddles or negative yelling/spritzing with a water bottle; just stop reacting at all.

If you can find a way to set up a nanny-cam or some other recording device, and leave it on for a few hours some day you're not at home, that will help you decide what to do next, because if you leave and each cat finds a spot to nap, and it's three hours of peaceable snoozing until you get home and all of a sudden "MOM HE WON'T STAY ON HIS SIDE OF THE COUCH MOM MOM MOM OW I'M TELLING SEE MOM"? Hobey and Joe would pull that shit on me all the time, but at the kennel, where they shared a three-by-three cube? Besties. Made a Mobius and passed out. Don't dismiss the idea that this is for your benefit and that as long as you continue to watch the show, P will keep performing it.

But it's a tiny space after six months of dislocation/upheaval, and you don't have to feel guilty about it, but you do have to accept that it takes even cats who don't hate each other a little while to feel at home in a new spot. If another week or ten days goes by and the behavior ramps up (i.e., pee), or the fights become injurious or scary, lock one of them in the bathroom at all times and consult with a vet, but in the meantime, you have to stick to your guns: feed separately, Feliway, and ignore the acting out all the time, every time.

And understand, this is how it is with unrelated same-sex pairs of cats sometimes. It may only get better enough for you to sleep. Before you panic and give one away, try setting the tone with calm and reasonable responses (like: none) for a while, remembering that animals pick up on vibes, and yours may not be helping right now. Deep breaths; see where you are by Labor Day.

Be Sociable, Share!



  • JenV says:

    Also, watch some episodes of My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet (I think you can watch a number of episodes on the Animal Planet website.) I know it's a bit cheesy, and the animal behavior guy is a smidge douchey what with the sideburns and rock'n'roll bowling shirts and carrying cat toys around in a guitar case, but he also KNOWS HIS SHIT about cat behavior. I've had cats for years and I still learn new things watching that show.

    Also, yeah, a week is nothing in cat-adjustment time. Definitely give it a lot more time, even though the adjustment period is hell.

  • Sherry says:

    Hindsight is 20/20–bringing them in separately was probably not the way to go. P thought it was his territory, and now he has to share it with that S guy? No way!

    I echo the Feliway suggestion. It seems to help mine when they get stressed out. You could also try Composure Liquid. Reviews are mixed on whether it works, but my impression with my cats was that it was helpful.

    And definitely find a way for them to have separate territories, even if it involves putting up shelves so that one cat can get up high or letting one of them retreat inside a cabinet for a while. I've got cats who like to go inside cabinets/closets. I also have a few who open the kitchen drawer and crawl inside to snooze. (Well, actually, they crawl inside the lowest drawer, and then get into the drawer above that from the back so they can snooze unmolested in the closed drawer.) Basically, they are looking for ways to get away from the other cats for a while. If you can find a way to do that in your small space, it might help a lot.

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    When I moved my single female cat from our old apartment to our house after a 9+ hour drive she shot behind the fridge and I didn't see her except for some growling when I caught her sneaking out to use the box or get food and water for at least a week and a half. Moving adjustment with cats takes time. Don't panic yet.

  • Alicia says:

    I had a similar issue – cat had to live with Mom for a month while housing got straightened out, her cats HATED my cat, etc. etc. We used a Feliway-knockoff collar that absolutely worked – Mom's cats calmed the heck down and stopped attacking my cat (who still spent all her time hiding from their meanie meanness).

    She's back with us now, and it took her about two hours to adjust (alone, she's a very resilient cat), but for a month it was unbearable.

    So … I guess my point is Feliway comes in collars, as well?

  • Ang. says:

    Can I just say that I love how the cats have pseudonyms in this letter? At least, I am guessing that they aren't really named 'S' and 'P,' so it's like the OP (quite charmingly) wanted to try to protect their privacy, you know, just in case they were surfing the 'net one day and came across this letter. Love it.

    I second (third? whatever) the Feliway suggestion. People aren't supposed to be able to smell it, though I can indeed (smells like melty hot glue, but not too strong). One should cover your entire apartment, I bet. I've also used these calm-down chewy cat treats before; bought them from, and they're called "natural" something. Might be worth a try; take a look around.

    And I agree that they will need more time. Kitty disagreements often sound much worse than they are, and it seems like yours are working things out pretty well–that is, they aren't peeing all over the place or injuring each other. Make sure to clip their nails regularly to minimize the potential for injury and try to let them work it out. That said, I don't believe they should be sharing a single litter box or a single food bowl, so I'd take care of that if they are.

    Because I am too devoted to my cats, I sometimes make them little makeshift pillow or blanket forts here and there. And as mentioned, they love boxes! Even in a small apartment, you should be able to easily create some little nooks here and there for each cat to go and have some alone time in a place that is just theirs. I bet they would especially appreciate places that will allow them to keep an eye on everything else. I love those little cat shelves/steps you can get to hang on the wall and give them a place to hang out up high. They will get more comfortable in their new place and with each other in time. And OP, I think you are awesome for sticking it out and working to keep them both together.

  • Erin in SLC says:

    Echoing the Feliway and the nanny-cam idea. My parents have a piebald and a brown tabby who are constantly trash-talking and threatening violence on each other when they have a human audience; when they don't, they'll happily plop down for naps two feet apart. If you're not coming home to bloody clumps of fur, I'd guess you're dealing with the same dynamic.

  • Jo says:

    Also suggesting Feliway. Get the real stuff, not the generic. It's cheaper on Amazon.

    Everything Sars said. It definitely could partly be sibling rivalry. My cats hate each other when I'm around (One of them belongs to my now-husband, who owned him for two years before we met. That cat hated my guts for the first year I was just a regular visitor to his house, then hated me more for the first six months after I moved into his house with my two cats — one of whom was quiet and old and left him alone and the other a male his age who he hates. Now husband's cat loves me more.) Anyway: When we're around, especially in front of me, the cats hiss and yowl and mess with each other. When they think we aren't looking, they sleep calmly on the same bed almost in touching range. But also, they're stressed about all the change. They don't have reason yet to think that the new situation is permanent. Try the things Sars said, get some Feliway, spray catnip around. I know catnip doesn't affect all of them the same, but both the spray and the dried stuff they can eat makes both of mine really high and they just like around calmly all day. They LOVE those cardboard scratcher things that cost like $5 at Target and come with dried catnip to sprinkle on them.

  • Amanda says:

    Yes to all the suggestions Sars has. Also, if the behavior DOES escalate into inappropriate peeing, look into Prozac. My cat Charlie went apeshit when my sister in law and her cat moved in, even though we ended up confining them to different areas. The Prozac ($4 bucks a month, half a pill a day) cut down 98% of the "fuck this noise I'm peeing on all your stuff" reaction Charlie had. we're dealing with the other 2% by re-litter training her and confining her with baby gates to our half-bath.

  • Jo says:

    Actually, the Prozac solution isn't a bad idea. It's at least worth asking the vet about. I have a friend whose cat took Prozac after developing a habit of chewing on her butt (she had a small injury or flea bite or something that started it) so much that she had to wear a cone of shame for like six months before they put her on drugs. It worked really well.

  • Nikki says:

    I would re-home S. Honestly, really. It sounds like he needs to be an only cat. And poor P, how sad for him!

    I know it's not conventional advice, since most people on TN fall on the forever-home side of things. But I'm in the "they're cats, not people" category… and you do what you have to do. When cats haven't gotten along for 6 years and it's only getting worse… well, if six months down the road things are even worse, keep this option in the back of your mind.

  • Ang says:

    I forgot about meds. My best friend's cat is on generic Paxil. I think he gets half a pill a day; it costs her a few bucks a month and has made a world of difference. OP, if things aren't better in a month, maybe talk to your vet about this option.

  • Cyntada says:

    Animals express stress in strange ways. I once shared a dog with a roommate; she moved across the street and we agreed the dog would live with her for lots of good reasons. I still fed and walked the dog daily, worked out great for all concerned. One weekend the family went on vacation and my former roomie took a trip at the same time, so the dog jumped the fence and came to see me. OK, fine, no prob, until we picked up her yardmate to come over too. They had been fine an hour before; few minutes later, dogfight. My dog was seriously out to kill her cowering, shrieking yardmate, and I've reffed enough playfights and dog scuffles to know the difference. This was for keeps. We separated the dogs permanently and mine remained somewhat dog-aggressive for the rest of her life. Even with me right there, fear that her family had suddenly left her changed something we could never quite change back.

    So, this sitch with the cats doesn't surprise me at all. Give them time. Time and I'll nth the Feliway. I also tried one of those purple "calming" collars on my current cat during a stressful time and it worked a little *too* well… she seemed kind of stoned! Finally resorted to sewing a piece of the calming collar into a regular collar and this seemed to help. (Cat may have been disappointed, but oh well.)

    Also keep in the back of your mind: a condo for each cat. I mean the kind with a door that shuts. You can't leave them in there all the time of course, but if the condos are plenty tall, roomy and well-equipped with food, litter, shelves and hidey places, they might start seeing it as a refuge. By providing regular guaranteed time away from the other cat, in a place that's theirs-all-theirs and no one else's, you might swing the balance into overall harmony. Could be an answer if they really are fighting and scrapping while you're gone.

    I have a nosy shop cat who loves to jet through doors, and her condo made a world of difference for everyone's peace of mind. We can work safely for us (no cat tripping people), safe for her (no escaping into a busy commercial driveway), and she often sleeps in the condo when free at night, because it's comfy and "hers". (Plus her food and litter is always there.) I made that out of two gridded cube shelving kits, and lots of zip ties. It's sturdy as heck, big enough for me to get inside, and way cheaper than anything we considered at the pet store. It's another idea that may not be the first choice, but could beat rehoming a cat if this just can't be resolved any other way.

  • MizShrew says:

    I've had a similar situation, though triggered differently: one cat goes batshit whenever one of the neighborhood outdoor kitties shows up on the front porch. Then he attacks my other cat — and not in the usual play-wrestling way, but in the feral barn cats trying to kill each other way. Prozac seems to help. Also, I found that the pet version of Rescue Remedy was helpful, and you can find it in the same places you find Feliway. I tried both and felt like the RR was more effective, but that may be because my house configuration diluted the Feliway too much (lots of doorways, older house with smaller rooms, etc.)

    Suggestions already made here but seconded by my vet when I was dealing with this: a TALL cat tree that lets the more aggressive kitty see his whole territory and feel in charge — the shelves on the wall would do this too.

    And a week is really short, given the upheaval. I had a cat who spent more than a week hiding behind a bed when we moved. Give them some time, separate them as needed, and reassess in a couple of weeks. Unless they start marking territory, as it's really, really difficult to stop that behavior once it starts. Or if they are really going at it and looking to do more serious damage. Trust me, you'll know the difference: tomcats in full fight mode sound like sirens. The growls sound different too — lower and more intense.

    And if it's any consolation, my kitties — the same ones who have tried to actually murder one another in the past — were curled up on the bed together this morning, with one washing the other's ears and both purring. Yours may never get that lovey-dovey, but they will probably find ways to exist in the same space and be fine.

Leave a comment!

Please familiarize yourself with the Tomato Nation commenting policy before posting.
It is in the FAQ. Thanks, friend.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>